The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

November 13, 2012

Food bank running short on supplies

OTTUMWA — The good news:  The nonprofit food bank really knows how to make a dollar stretch. The bad news: They’re running out of dollars.

The Food Bank of Southern Iowa program helps get food to senior citizens, disabled residents and the homeless in southeast Iowa. They have a large facility to store dry or frozen food; as local food pantries or churches require more food to give out, they go to the food bank.

The shelves are emptying, and the agency is not able to refill them.

“The commodities program has been cut in half,” said Neil Abbott, the organization’s executive director. “I used to get 26 pallettes of food; it’s down to 14. That’s a lot of food, and that’s just one program.”

Corperate sponsors, like the big cereal companies, have been cutting back on donations, too. Abbott is still able to purchase some food to give away to local pantries.

“They aren’t getting the quantities they would like, and they can’t always get the items they want,” he said.

Local charities want to be able to give away food that has protein, fruit and vegetables or baby formula as well as other healthy options for families. But Abbott doesn’t always get to pick what he gets when he asks for a certain amount of food.

So the warehouse in Otttumwa has almost no meat and very little nutritious, protein-packed and kid-friendly peanut butter. They did just get in a shipment of green beans, which is good news any time of year, but it’s especially nice as the holidays arrive.

The Ottumwa orginization gets about 90 percent of its food from the Food Bank of Iowa, located in Des Moines. By paying a handling fee, Abbott is able to bring in a lot of food. But cash donations are low. Abbott and his staff focus on distributing food, he said, not fundraising. But when people donate money, he contacts Des Moines and some of the other food banks to see what he can get for the people in southern Iowa.

And as a nonprofit, he can get a lot. He said if people knew, they would be really surprised at how much food gets donated when they give a few dollars to the food bank.

An everyday grocery shopper may get their family half a grocery cart of food for $42. On an average day, Abbott can spend $42 to bring in 300 pounds of food for distribution to pantries.

Canned food drives do show how much people care, he said, and there are smart shoppers at the market, but they just can’t do what the food bank can do.

For 79 cents, a caring shopper can get a can of green beans for the food bank, which they then send to a food pantry. Or a shopper can choose to give that money to the food bank instead. For 79 cents, Abbott can order just more than five pounds of food.

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